Prosecutor's office sends Center Party forbidden donation case to court

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Center Party office. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Office of the Prosecutor General on Monday sent to court the materials of a criminal investigation opened last summer that concerns the making of a forbidden donation to the Center Party, the junior partner in the two-party coalition governing Estonia.

The charges filed are to do with the making of a forbidden donation in the amount of €50,000 and entry into an agreement on peddling alleged influence. 

Martin Kunnap and Catalina Porro are accused of entering into an agreement on influence peddling. According to the charges, Kunnap gave Porro €20,000 and the Center Party €50,000 in return for a promise concerning the use of alleged influence by Porro to achieve a favorable decision concerning building rights for real estate developments of companies connected with Kunnap. Even though, according to the charge sheet, the claims of Porro concerning her influence were unsubstantiated and, consequently, the desired result was not achieved as a result of influence peddling, according to the prosecutor's office this was nevertheless a situation where an attempt was made to facilitate business by unacceptable means. 

In addition, Kunnap and Jana-Helen Juhaste are accused of making a forbidden donation. According to the charges, Kunnap in January 2020 donated €50,000 to the nonprofit MTÜ Eesti Keskerakond, the legal entity of the Center Party, but conducted the transfer via Juhaste to conceal his connection with the donation.

Chief State Prosecutor Taavi Pern said on Monday that the making of prohibited donations and influence peddling entails a major threat both to fair competition and to trust in public authority as a whole.

"Political parties have the responsibility to also think about the possible motives of donors when accepting donations. In the case of large donations, the origin and purpose of the money must be checked as much as possible," Pern said.

"Achieving one's business goals in an unfair or criminal way deepens the way of thinking that it is not possible to succeed honestly. The spread of this way of thinking can only be curbed through increasing the transparency of the principles of decision-making and making control mechanisms more effective. Through their actions, influence peddlers deter other market participants and, in the end, the entire economic environment will suffer as a result of corrupt transactions. In this case, the most harmful consequences never arrived, as the person who peddled their alleged influence was a rank and file member of a political party, who did it without involving other members of the party. Therefore, suspicions were not lodged against leading members of the party or the party itself," the prosecutor said.

Ats Kubarsepp, head of the office for the investigation of corruption crimes at the Central Criminal Police, said that each agreement on providing someone with an unlawful advantage harms the whole society.

"We are working to keep the economic environment fair and if necessary, we intervene by means of criminal proceedings. In this criminal proceeding, the police identified the actual owner of the donated money and examined whether the party was aware of the origin of the money and the purpose of the donation," Kubarsepp said.

He said the police also checked the reliability of the statements and public comments made by the parties connected with the donation. During the investigation, it was established that the public explanations of the person who made the donation and the actual owner of the money were misleading and that this was an illegal donation, which the parties involved had to understand as well, the officer added.

Under law, the making of a forbidden donation is punishable with a pecuniary punishment. Influence peddling is punishable with a pecuniary punishment or up to three years' imprisonment.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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